Sociologidagarna i Stockholm 15-17 mars 2012. Lördag 17 mars pass 1, klockan 9:30-10:40. ”Hur att teoretisera”. Moderator:  Richard Swedberg. @The author.

Notes on Theorizing in Sociology

Backup of Twelve Tricks of Theorizing
by Hans L Zetterberg

In modern scientific articles and monographs one presents only results. In earlier scholarly writings that took the form of more paradigmatic essays it was customary to include also the trials and tribulations that preceded the emergence of the results. I will here try to pick up the old-fashioned path and describe an intellectual process that began in 1950 with the writing of my MA-thesis, A Semantic Role Theory, at the University of Minnesota (Zetterberg 1951) and ended with seven planned volumes about social theory and about a many-splendored society that is within mankind’s reach (Zetterberg 2009, 2nd ed. 2011, Vol 1 et seq.).

The adjective "many-splendored" describes a society with personal freedom and a sparkling differentiation of six self-governing realms: economy, politics, science, art, religion, and morality. When these societal realms are integrated, so that no one realm rules over any of the others, we have, in my view, a good society.

The Many-Splendored Society is not a typical collection of essays of theoretical relevance, more or less revised and integrated, as are works of Max Weber (1920, 1921), Robert K Merton (1957), Herbert Blumer (1969), Clifford Geertz (1973), Edward Shils (1982), all of which have greatly inspired me. The Many-Splendored Society certainly has material from my older essays but it is reworked into a whole cloth and everything is presented in English. Actually, my native tongue, Swedish, is not well suited to the topic at hand since the people and intellectuals who speak Swedish use the same word, "samhället," for both state and society, an anathema of being many-splendored. 


Trick One of the Theorizing Trade: Get in Touch with the Classics

"A classic must stand at last alone: without apology, exegesis, or alibi. It must speak for itself to strangers; it must be intelligible, and seem true, after all its special friends are dead. It must have the minimum of weakness, vagueness, vanity, wind. It must be well made at the seams, to stand the long voyage it hopes to make, and to endure the waves either of contempt or of competition. It must have been made, in other words, by one who knew how to make such things, and nothing else about him will matter: who he was, how he looked, or what he thought about other things than the things he treated" (van Doren 1961, 27).

In the social sciences, particularly sociology, the classic texts are still alive. We cannot learn sociology simply by reading the most recent textbook. Above all, to theorize in sociology you must attend to its classics. As you have seen from the program, most papers in the workgroup on theory are explorations of classical texts. Actually we have good reasons to return all the way to Aristotle when we study social science, particularly if the topic is politics, aesthetics, or ethics.

No modern physicist or biologist have such reasons to return to any writer from antiquity. But we social scientists do. I do not think this means that social science is backwards compared to natural science. Social science is the easier one of the two. The grammar of social reality is easier than the mathematics of physical reality, and the grammar is known almost automatically by any language brain. Already in ancient Athens one could acquire abundant and accurate knowledge of human affairs; the wisdom of its dramatists and philosophers has produced centuries of aha-experiences. It was harder for the Athenians to learn about phenomena of physical and biological reality. Such knowledge required more conscious initiatives and technologically advanced instruments.

Let me assure you that it is wonderful to live a life in communication with the classics, the brightest of the ages. In my darker moments in USA, England, Sweden, and Spain, it has been a consolation to be able to turn to the classics.

Let me say a word about the Great Books movement.

After World War II, educational systems in many countries favored early specialization. That which had formerly been called studium generale,,general studies,” and which preceded occupationally geared studies, was accordingly cut back.

A heroic attempt to re-establish general studies with a new (or rediscovered) pedagogy was made after the War at the University of Chicago, a private university. Its studium generalewas a set of courses in certain subjects, all having a tradition of basic research. In small, compulsory seminars, all freshmen read, discussed, and analyzed the most important original works in philosophy, physics, history, and social studies. The aim was not that the students should learn about the entire series of “Great Books” chosen by Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. Most of the 54 books were works in Western humanism from Homer to William James in their original (but if necessary translated) versions. Some original scientific texts were also included by Aristotle, Newton, HuygensLavoisier ourierFaraday, Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Rather, the goal of the seminars was to develop critical thinking, not only through exchanges with fellow students and teachers, but also with the pre-eminent thinkers of the Western world.

Different and sometimes watered-down versions of the Chicago model of “Great books coursessoon came to Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Brown, and to other colleges and universitiesin the United States with ambitious undergraduate programs. Most of these programs have been met with declining interest, and have waned in importance. They have suffered from some students’ desires to choose easier courses, and their contents became subject to criticism by feminists  and multiculturalists as an ultimate bias and celebration of Western white males.

When I was teaching at the Graduate School of Columbia University for twelve years in the 50s and 60s, the undergraduates in Columbia College had a mandatory Great Books Course. In the graduate Department of Sociology we agreed that I would give a seminar of great sociological classics. We would read a different book (or sometimes a longer book section) each week for twelve weeks. No free-riding allowed. If someone had been unable to do the home work, they were allowed to stay in the seminar, but with some restrictions on participating in the discussion. One seminar member had the responsibility to introduce the book of the week, and later in the report also include chosen points of the group discussion. Some names recurred most every year -- de Tocqueville, Marx, Weber, Simmel, Durkheim, Mead -- while I varied others from year to year. Needless to say I got myself the good education that my colleagues thought I already had when they assigned the seminar to me.     

Unfortunately, Richard Swedberg was a teenager when this took place. His idea to replace the teaching of theory with the teaching of theorizing did not occur to me. I remember that some of Lazarsfeld’s doctoral students in my classics seminar raised issues of the methodology of theorizing. Merton’s students, like my own, were mostly interested in the substantive theory of the classics. The Department itself was convinced that if we could teach superior methodology and superior theory, any of our students could then take up specialties such as race, crime, family, etc. on her or his own; there was no need for our curriculum to cover everything called sociology.

Trick Two of the Theorizing Trade: Find a House God among the Classics

Classics often inspire a life in scholarship. To get to know a classic of your choice may help your career as a scholar. 

Let me cite from the first words I read by Max Weber. They came from a lecture at Munich University on “Wissenschaft als Beruf” given in 1917 at the request of the students, many of whom planned a career in science. Here is Weber’s original German text and a translation from the 1940s into English by Professor Hans Gerth of University of Wisconsin and C. Wright Mills, his graduate student:


All work that overlaps neighboring fields, such as we occasionally undertake and which the sociologists must necessarily undertake again and again, is burdened with the resigned realization that at best one provides the specialist with useful questions upon which he would not so easily hit from his own specialized point of view. One's own work must inevitably remain highly imperfect. Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized accom­plishment. And whoever lacks the capacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up to the idea that the fate of his soul depends upon whether or not he makes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscript may as well stay away from science. He will never have what one may call the “personal experience” of sci­ence. Without this strange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider; without this passion this 'thousands of years must pass before you enter into life and thousands more wait in silence' ‐‐ ac­cording to whether or not you succeed in making this conjecture; without this, you have no calling for science and you should do some­thing else. For nothing is worthy of man as man un­less he can pursue it with passionate devotion. (Weber 1946, 135).

Alle Arbeiten, welche auf Nachbargebiete übergreifen, wie wir sie gelegentlich machen, wie gerade z.B. die Soziologen sie notwendig immer wieder machen müssen, sind mit dem resignierten Bewußtsein belastet: daß man allenfalls dem Fachman nützliche Fragestellungen liefert, auf die dieser von seinen Fachgesichtspunkten aus nicht so leicht verfällt, daß aber die eigene Arbeit unvermeidlich höchst unvollkommen bleiben muß. Nur durch strenge Spezialisierung kann der wissenschaftliche Arbeiter tatsächlich das Vollgefühl, einmal und vielleicht nie wieder im Leben, sich zu eigen machen: hier habe ich etwas geleistet, was dauern wird. Eine wirklich endgültige und tüchtige Leistung ist heute stets: eine spezialistische Leistung. Und wer also nicht die Fähigkeit besitzt, sich einmal sozusagen Scheuklappen anzuziehen und sich hineinzusteigern in die Vorstellung, daß das Schicksal seiner Seele davon abhängt: ob er diese, gerade diese Konjektur an dieser Stelle dieser Handschrift richtig macht, der bleibe der Wissenschaft nur ja fern. Niemals wird er in sich das durchmachen, was man das »Erlebnis« der Wissenschaft nennen kann. Ohne diesen seltsamen, von jedem Draußenstehenden belächelten Rausch, diese Leidenschaft, dieses: »Jahrtausende mußten vergehen, ehe du ins Leben tratest, und andere Jahrtausende warten schweigend«: – darauf, ob dir diese Konjektur gelingt, hat einer den Beruf zur Wissenschaft nicht und tue etwas anderes. Denn nichts ist für den Menschen als Menschen etwas wert, was er nicht mit Leidenschaft tun kann. (Weber 1922, 588-589).


One or two sentences in this quote are typically Weber, i.e. like gothic castles with many towers. My mother tongue is Swedish; the first foreign language I learned in school was German, later came French and English, and I had had only one year at an English-speaking university when I began reading Max Weber in America. I shall not hide the fact that, even in C. Wright Millssmoothening English editing, I had to struggle with the above passage when I first encountered it in 1950 as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. However, in due course, and when I discovered also the original German, these pages of text reinforced what was to me a very moving and also a molding passage. 

There are many bottoms in Weber’s statement about a career in science, particularly social science. The quote has a message about the necessity, but academically unrewarding efforts, of a sociologist (acting in the role of general social scientist) to cross into the specialties of others, i.e. what Richard Swedberg and Patrik Aspers and some others who are here today do in their major works. Have solace in Weber’s remark!

The next message in Weber’s sermon is that the work of a scientist must, nevertheless, be highly specialized to achieve enduring results. Scientists are normally judged (and promoted) on the basis of discoveries in a narrow field. To reach fame in the very short life-time that is given us, a scientist must persist in a specialty until a discovery is established.

Weber preaches, furthermore, that scientific endeavors depend on passion, not just rationality. The genuine pursuit of science includes a passion for discovery. However, errors in using the scientific methods can never be excused by the fact that the author was passionate.

Moreover, there is a serious warning that your entire worth, “the fate of your soul,” depends on doing scientific discoveries correctly. Thus, your conformity to, or deviation from, the norms of the scientific methods shapes the evaluation you will receive from your encounters in the community of science. Clearly, for a scientist there is no substitute for correct comparisons and experiments, for accuracy of measurements, for carefulness in use of sources and statistics, for truthfulness in tales and modeling. Here, the very meaning of your short life on this earth is at stake, when “thousands of years must pass before you enter into life and thousands more wait in silence.”

Finally, your own development to a mature, autonomous self, to a personality of your own, depends on making your chosen science into, not just a daily routine, but into your calling (Beruf).

My generation of Swedish students of sociology had not had Max Weber on their reading lists, except perhaps docent Bertil Pfannenstill’s students in Lund. Max Weber eventually became my sociological house god.

Like Marx, Weber came to most Swedish sociologists from America, and, interestingly enough, he came in full attention only after Marx had become the main macro-sociologist of academic choice among Swedish sociologists. We were a few who became Weberians. In the 1970s, Kerstin Lindskoug(1979) found Weber on her own in the Department of Sociology at Gothenburg University. (After her sociology dissertation on Weber’s concept of charisma she turned to a career in medicine.) In Karlstad, Weber became Sven Eliasson’s house god; Eliasson is internationally recognized as a Weber scholar.

The greatest help for anyone interested in following us on the Weberian route is Richard Swedberg’s The Max Weber Dictionary. Key Words and Central Concepts(Swedberg 2005).   It is our postil.   

Trick Three of the Theorizing Trade: Find an Intellectual Inspiration Early in Life

There was a time when I attended high school in the 1940s in Sweden when I wanted to become a chemist; I attended what the Germans call Realgymnasium, i.e. one that specialized in the natural sciences. When friends and relatives wondered: "What do you want to do with chemistry?" I could answer by telling them about “the periodic system.” This was a classification of all the elements in a table where columns and lines pointed to common characteristics of the elements. In 1869 Dimitri I Mendelévy had created a first version of chemistry's periodic system by classifying the elements, seven to a column, according to their atomic weight.

My excellent chemistry teacher made it clear that although there are about 100 elements, they can form over a million combinations. If you know where in the periodic table an element is located you have already got a great deal of information about its characteristics and its ability to unite with other elements. Blanks in the table meant that the elements had not yet been discovered. This was a lot for a budding chemist to work on, and perhaps a chance to discover something new!

When I became a social scientist I often missed the elegance of chemistry's periodic system, especially when confronted with the question "What constitutes a modern society?" I was forced to ponder this question on many occasions. For half a century I have had opportunities to study modern society as a sociology teacher and scholar, as a publisher of social science books, as a pollster with involvement in market, media, and value research, as a consultant to businesses, voluntary associations, and museums, as an ideologue for a political party, and as a newspaper editor and columnist. Nowhere did I find a classification for this study as elegant as that to be found in the periodic system of chemistry of my school days.

In volume 2 of my current work in 7 volumes called The Many-Splendored Society I have proposed a Periodic Table of Social Reality.












Executive descriptions

Executive evaluations

Executive prescriptions



Emotive pre-



Learning buffs






























Priority of findings

Monetary devices


Artistic fame





Scientific method











Artistic license

Religious freedom

Freedom of conscience


Spontaneous order




Art improvisations

Non-ritual prayers

Unplanned civilities





Public admini-

Theatres, museums, etc


Welfare organizations












Advertising media


Stages, novels, exhibits, etc

Holy texts, cults




Competing laboratories



Schools (=approaches to art)

Rival congregations

Contending moral groups






Creative artists


Sources of high norms







Learned Clerics







Performers, entertainers


Moralists Carers






Fans of culture

Congregation adherents

Decent people




Outside investors


of art

Chaplains to other realms





Deposit taking


from other realms

Salvation seekers
from other realms

support seekers

Please note that The Periodic Table deals with social reality, i.e. what is given and constructed by man’s unique environment of symbols. Other aspects of human living belong in another table. 

A closer look at symbolic environments of societies allows us to specify communicative actions (Row B) as evaluations, or prescriptions, or descriptions. Such communications are either executive – map out the world around us, evaluate it, and manage it – or they are emotive – add and shape emotions to events in our outer or inner world. The six kinds of communicative acts are thus: executive descriptions (Column 1), executive evaluations (Column 2), executive prescriptions (Column 3); emotive descriptions (Column 4), emotive evaluations (Column 5), emotive prescriptions (Column 6). These are purely communications by symbols.

Science (Row B, Column 1) is connected with an overrepresentation of executive descriptions, for example, facts and generalizations. Economy and business (Row B, Column 2) are connected with executive evaluations, for example, prices and costs. Politics and administration (Row B, Column 3) are connected with executive prescriptions, for example, laws and regulations. Art (Row B, Column 4) in all its forms deals with descriptive visions that are emotive, expressive. Religions (Row B, Column 5) relate to expressive evaluations, for example, ideas about the fundamental value of mankind and the meaning of life. Morality (Row B, Column 6) contains expressive prescriptions, ethical rules of conduct. Thus, the six communicative acts provide a potential for six fundamental realms of life in human society: economy, polity, science, religion, morality, and art.

In these realms of society, important products are created which we refer to as their cardinal values (Row D). They are wealth in the economy, order in the body politic, knowledge in science, sacredness in religion, virtue in the realm of morality, and beauty in the sphere of art.

When the societal realms hold each other in balance so that no one rules over the other, and when each one can freely export and import their respective cardinal values, then, and only then, do we have a many-splendored society.

Each realm has its own pattern of ranking, its stratification (Row E): competence in science, class (purchasing clout) in the economy, power in the body politic, taste in art, rectitude in morality, and piety in the realm of religion.

Reward systems (Row F) also differ between the realms. Each realm has its own way of expressing awe, admiration, and deference. In science the greatest testimonials are awarded to those who are the first to make and publish a discovery. In economy, deference is paid to money and the display of spectacular investments and consumption. In the body politic, deference to the powerful is expressed in the form of titles and public tributes. In art and entertainment, one achieves artistic fame. In religion, deference is shown in reverence, and in the realm of morality, it is expressed in the real brick of personal respect.

Societal realms are, more or less, rationally organized. However, each may develop its own type of rationality (Row G). In the contemporary institutions of knowledge, the most common rationality is the scientific method; in the economy the presently dominant type of rationality at the time of this writing is the market economy; in the body politic the modern rationality is that of democracy on the domestic scene, and diplomacy on the international scene.

Each realm also has its special type of freedom (Row H): academic freedom, free trade, civil rights, artistic license, freedom of faith, and freedom of conscience. Freedom is implemented in a society, not as an abstract philosophical proclamation; it must be anchored in the routines of the respective realms.

Each realm contains four recurrent structures. First, there are organizations (Row J), such as state agencies, firms, research institutes, churches, theatres, et cetera. Second, outside such formal organizations, we find networks (Row K), such as electorates, markets, grids of volunteers, colleagues, supporters, et cetera. Third, we note that each realm also has its media (Row L). In the printed media there are specialized publications, or specialized pages featuring politics, economy, science, art, religion, and the ethics of interpersonal relations. Fourth, we take special note of a combination of a full-fledged network as the environment of full-fledged organizations. These, “netorgs” (Row M) seem to have greater effects on societies than any other structures.

Wealth is created by entrepreneurial producers, recorded by accountants, and preserved by insurers and bankers in financial institutions, conveyed by trading distributors, and possibly distributed to consumers. The political order is formulated by leaders and legislators, preserved by the judiciary, the police, and the military, and is implemented by technocrats and bureaucrats, and received by the subjects or citizens. Knowledge is created by scientists and learned men and women, is preserved by libraries, is communicated by teachers, and is received by students. Sacredness in religions is created by prophets, preserved by those versed in the Holy Scriptures and rites, conveyed by the clergy, and are received by congregations. Beauty in art is created by artists, is preserved on stages and in collections open to the public, is conveyed by interpreting artists, guides and critics, and is received by the public. Thus, each realm has four recurrent internal functions. They stand for the creation (Row N) or preservation (Row O) or distribution (Row P) or reception (Row Q) of the cardinal values that are produced in the different life spheres.

The relative autonomy of the categories in The Table of Societal Realms is more than an impetus to provide the categories with separate names, and is also more than an impetus for individuals to specialize in one sphere rather than being a jack of all trades. The relative autonomy signals a confederative nature of a society's parts. Every realm always embeds some “alien” elements from other life spheres, and needs these elements. The cells in our Table of Societal Realms are islands, but they are not alone and are never entirely to themselves. In Row R and S we have provided space for the individuals who are responsible for essential exchanges between realms, the Providers and the Procurers. A society does not have to create high walls between its realms.

The sum total of these differentiations is what we have called “the many-splendored society.” Its lifestyles (Row C) hint at the varied options an individual in such a society may enjoy in everyday life.

Trick Four of the Theorizing Trade:  Learn from the Editors and/or Best Students of the Classic Books

I was fortunate to have as my first teacher of sociology Torgny T. Segerstedt, a Swede who had been a professor of philosophy. His intellectual roots were in the Scottish Enlightenment; his main interest was the study of the role of language in society. His first book was called Verklighet och värde (Segerstedt 1938) addressed the issue of how values shape social reality, and his second major book with the title Ordens makt (Segerstedt 1944) was a study in the psychology of "the power of words", also available in German. These books led me to two names that seemed to have celebrated ideas: the great European linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure and the great American philosopher of language, George Herbert Mead. However, it was not until 1949 when I had entered graduate school at the University of Minnesota that I read Cours de linguistique générale (1916) and Mind, Self and Society (1934). The impression was lasting and to honor them I have in Chapter 2 of the Many-Splendored Society labeled two types of symbols with their names – “meadian symbols” and “saussurian symbols’ -- although my definitions of these concepts are not particularly orthodox. Saussurian symbols are ever changing symbols referring only to other symbols which may also be changing. Meadian symbols are ostensive (you can point at what they refer to), and this is not something merely synonymous. I came to prefer to develop sociological terminology on this basis. Before the First World War, Weber (1913) put together his first taxonomy (Kategorienlehre) for the entire social sciences – or what he, at that time, called “general sociology," but I was unaware of this at the time. Perhaps this was an blessing in disguised for me.

There is an enormous secondary literature about Mead and de Saussure. Both these pioneering books were edited by their students from lecture notes, and they were not particularly easy reading. I decided to check also some writings by their editors. How had the editors handled and elaborated the heritage of their great masters? This turned out to be a stroke of luck.

Meads editor, and author of the long introduction, was Charles W Morris, a semiotician and a philosopher in the American pragmatic tradition. In his 1946 book, Signs, Language and Behavior, he divided the actual use of language into a universal classification. "These usages may be called in order the informative, the valuative, the incitive, and the systemic uses of signs. These are the most general sign usages; other usages are subdivisions and specializations of these four." (Morris 1946, 95, italics in original). I became overwhelmed by the scope and usefulness of these distinctions.[1]

de Saussure's editor and collaborator was Charles Bally and in his book La langage et la vie from 1913 I found a wonderful comment on the meanings of the phrase "It is raining" (Bally 1913, 23). In my MA-thesis 1951 I recited his discovery:

“If we make some slight changes in his illustrations we can put the phrase into all Morris’ categories. It may, for instance, stand for:

It has now started to rain (informative)

The weather is bad (valuative)

Shut the window! (incitive)”

Bally made it clear that the language of social reality had a grammar, but it was not the school grammar. The meaning of its symbols was modified by the social situation in which language was used. The social grammar is not the same as the school grammar! There is a special “understanding principle” in the social language.    

Here then emerged the Tri-section of language that became so fundamental in theory of The Many-Splendored Society. But I changed the terminology into descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions.

I have no recollection of the background of my systematic use of a Bi-section of communication, its instrumental and expressive forms. It seems that I started using it as a self-evident: a duality between head and heart, or between skill and emotion.

Charles Stevenson, an American philosopher of the same period as Charles W. Morris and in the same tradition of pragmatism, (1944), clarified this attribute of language by penetrating its emotive component. When we say with Shakespeare that "All the world's a stage" this emotive description is distinct, Stevenson argues, from an executive description such as "There is a routine in real life, each man going through a prearranged course"; or, "There is a good deal of trivial make-believe in each man's conduct." When the very words rather then what they stand for convey emotions -- such as "Long live the King" -- Stevenson talks about their “independent emotive meaning.” (1944)

Charles Stevenson’s best student in sociology was Ulf Himmelstrand (Social Pressures, Attitudes and Democratic Processes 1960), once my fellow student of sociology in Uppsala. He put an element of passion into the study of attitudes and norms.  In any analysis of rhetoric and art, ideology and religion, the emotive components are crucial.

Eventually I began to express a dichotomy, a Bi-section, in terms of “executive actions,” e.g., issuing instructions, giving a scientific lecture, driving a car, getting dressed for a football game, as opposed to “emotive actions” e.g., applauding a team's victory in a football game, reading romantic poetry, hand-wringing.

In Paris, the sophisticated axiomatic theory of signs and symbols of Greimas (Sémantique structurale. Recherche de méthode 1966) eventually also added emotive intensity as a key concept (Greimas & Fontanille 1991), which I took as a welcome confirmation of the need for the Bi-section of symbols in addition to the Tri-section. What we learned from Trick Four is summarized into Proposition 5:2 (Zetterberg, The Many-Splendored Society: Surrounded by Symbols 2009, 2nd ed. 2011, 149) .

Proposition 5:2 recalled. Tri- and Bisections of Language Usages and The Understanding Principle: a) Any symbolic environment tends to become differentiated by the language brain into a trisection of descriptive, evaluative, and prescriptive usages, each of which contains a bisection of executive and emotive components, i.e. totally six types of usages. (b) The language brain of persons in this symbolic environment has the capacity to differentiate these six usages regardless of their syntax.

Together the Tri- and Bi-section of language turned out to be fundamental in the discourses that create economy, politics, science, art, religion, and morality. Torgny Segerstedt (Social Control as a Sociological Concept 1948) had worked out the executive prescriptive language into his definition of social norms and social groups. I decided to continue this, but above all to take on a corresponding exploration into sociology of descriptive and evaluative language. I also wanted to fulfill Himmelstand’s initiative, and take full account of the emotive version of descriptions, evaluations, and prescriptions.

These starting points of social inquiry are found in line B of the Periodic Table of Social Reality above.

Trick Five of the Theorizing Trade: Be Inclusive about Your Backup of Evidence in the form of Books and Statistic

My early backups to my budding periodic system were books and statistics designed to be comprehensive descriptions, not theory.

Which subjects ought to be found in a library that best describe modern society? This was our chief concern when I and other social scientists together with a senior librarian, Carl White, were to list and classify the most important books in the social sciences that were to form part of the base of a new college library

Many new colleges were founded in the 1960s and they needed libraries with top selection.

I classified the categories of sociology books basic to a new college library in this way (Zetterberg, Sociology 1965):


Precursors of Systematic Sociology

 Works that Made History

 The Present State of Sociology

 Theoretical Sociology

 Social Psychology

 Groups and Encounters



 Social Stratification

 Institutional Realms

 Topics of Sociology

 Human and Non-human Resources

 Family Sociology

 Economic sociology

 Political Sociology

 Sociology of Science and Education

 Sociology of Art

 Sociology of Religion

 Urban and Rural Life, Communities and Societies

 Social Problems

 Methods of Sociology

Under these headings I proposed a total of 210 book titles in sociology as a minimum for a new library for any college or for ambitious junior colleges. To this a list was added a selection of journals by the project director.

The statistical backup of my budding periodic system was also in the form of a book project.

What is important to learn from statistics describing a contemporary society? Which ones are the basic 100 tables? This was the main problem of the editors of A Sociological Almanac for The United States(Gendell and Zetterberg 1961). The book contains a section that recounts how we solved the problem.

One should not pretend that there is agreement among social scientists as to the most relevant information that enters into a routine description of a society. However, as a rule, social scientists and historians, in dealing with total societies, begin by discussing:


1. Human resources

2. Material resources 

Then they may process along many paths, but in the end they have usually described six interrelated but different realms of society. The latter are:

3. Polity                  6. Religion

4. Economy            7. Art

5. Science               8. Ethics

The Preface told that the tables of this almanac are numbered according to the above scheme. Thus, any table with a prefix ‘6’ will deal with religion, any table with the prefix ‘4’ will deal with the economy, etc. The same holds for the subheadings of the text (pp. 31-32). The Almanac had 54 pages of tables. The Almanac also included a guide “How to read a table” by Murray Gendell (p 33-35) which enhanced its use as a supplementary text in undergraduate course about the U.S. society.

At this time, I can say that behind the categories of books and statistics list hides bits and pieces of a widely used Exposition of Categories for social sciences, a Kategorielehre, provided by the young Max Weber (1922/1968, chapter 1). It is a list of terms and their definitions in which also the most complex ones can be reduced to observable and understandable behavior. Weber did not allow for any abstractions in the social sciences that could not be derived from actions that we can see or understand. This so-called “methodological individualism” has been widely accepted.

My book Social Theory and Social Practice, published the same year, 1962, as the learned society whose 50th jubilee we celebrate at today’s meeting, linked the above classifications of books and statistics to the categories of the periodic system of social reality. When I first published them in support of theory I was still so uncertain about them that I buried them in footnotes (Zetterberg 1962, 68-69, 71)).

Trick Six of the Theorizing Trade: Treat your Classics as Stepping Stones   

No author, dead or alive, is a supreme lord over his or her own formulations. New generations create own formulations. As George Herbert Mead said: "A different Caesar crosses the Rubicon not only with each author but with each generation." In the writing of The Many-Splendored Society I have made several reformulations of the classics of social science and humanities to fit into my schema, and to be more relevant to the contemporary state of knowledge. The classics are here treated, not as monuments, but as stepping stones.

The main division of social reality is not class, as Karl Marxthought, but societal realms. They are six in number: science, art, economy, religion, polity, and morality. They are the homes of knowledge, beauty, wealth, sacredness, order, and virtue, all being cardinal values of mankind.

Class is important enough as a division within the economy that separates rich and poor, and all that this implies. However, not only class, but other distinctions with roots outside the economy are important independent stratifications. Consider, for example, scientific competence, levels of artistic taste, high or low offices of political power, or measures of religious sanctities, and, not to forget, distinctions in moral rectitude. These stratifications are as real as that of economic class. Did Marx consider them? Not explicitly in his writings, as far as I can tell. Robert K Merton notes that Friedrich Engelsclaims in a letter to Josef Block that Marxwas fully aware of such distinctions – who isn’t? – and that he included them in his notion of class. If so, I would argue that they need to be separated according to the societal realm to which they belong.

We reach a ‘many-splendored society’ if and when all stratifications – competence, taste, class, sacredness, power, and rectitude – are given about equal attention, sway, and honor, In such a setting, we would hear the voices of money and political power, not as a soloists, but in a chorus of other voices.

The counterpart to the class struggle in the latter type of society is stated in our Proposition 10:4 on Monopolization of Cardinal Values (Zetterberg 2010, 2nd enlarged ed. 2011, 179), recalled here.

Proposition 10:4 recalled. Monopolization of Cardinal Values: In any society, people who possess or control a large amount of a cardinal value (knowledge, wealth, power, beauty, sacredness, virtue) tend to act to preserve this situation.

This Proposition pinpoints a universal struggle to monopolize any and all cardinal values of mankind, not just wealth.

The different societal realmshave become both units of analysis in social science and co-authors of history. Max Weber  noted already in 1919 in a lecture on politics as a vocation: “We are placed into various life-spheres, each of which are governed by different laws” (Weber 1946, 123).

Max Weber specified six societal spheres for advanced societies. He called them "life orders" (Lebensordnungen). They are the economic, political, religious, intellectual, erotic, and the family order. A value sphere (Wertssphär) of particular priorities matches each of these orders. The orders and spheres tend to become relatively autonomous and develop their own structures with considerable independence from one another. This Weber called Eigengesetzlichkeit der Wertsphären, "the bounded autonomy of spheres of value" in Swedberg’s translation. In a couple of brilliant lectures on politics and science as professions, Weber elucidated the competition of the life orders as a perpetual "struggle of demons."

Scholars have argued about the number of life orders and their value spheres, as does, for example, (Scaff 1989, 94-96). He stays in the Weberian tradition, but suggests that Weber considered his list of six spheres as open. The British-American sociologist and historian Michael Mann (1986) in his bold IEMP-model is satisfied with four spheres: Ideology, Economy, Military, and Politics. The American social philosopher Michael Walzer (1983) has presented a pioneering work with a dozen ‘spheres of justice.‛ They are memberships, security and welfare, money and commodities, office, work, free time, education, kinship and love, divine grace, recognition, political power, tyrannies and just societies. The French social scientists Boltanski and Thévenot (1991) have made a division into the ‘worlds of justifications,‛ specifying market, industrial, inspired (sacred), celebrity, domestic, civic justifications. I am very grateful to Patrik Aspers who led me to this work and impressed by the way Caroline Dahlberg (2010) has used it in her doctoral thesis.

The many insights of Mann, Waltzer, Boltanski and Thévenot in the spheres they define are remarkable. However, with the possible exception of Mann, their spheres appear ad hoc and, in the main, they are related to a contemporary phase of Western history. They do not relate to, nor constitute, any systematic theory of society. The same can also be said about Max Weber’s original delineations. Weber’s inclusion of the erotic value sphere in his schema is unconnected to his somewhat related term ‘charisma’ in the same publication – both include elements of infatuation with another person. It is also unconnected to his previous taxonomy, the Kategorienlehre. His biographer has linked it up to a particular period of his love life (Radkau 2009).

The Weberian familial life order and erotic life order are part of the socially small world and are more based on wants than aspirations. For the moment, we may leave out the two micro-sociological spheres, the familial and erotic value spheres, from our list. The other life orders – the economic, political, religious, intellectual spheres are macro-concepts, and the values they comprise are aspirations unique to language-using humankind.

More important, we need to add a moral realm to Weber's list. A moral realm’s emotively grounded prescriptions cannot be reduced to political or religious expressions. This sphere of morality may be underdeveloped in the post-Athenian and post-Roman Western world, but is, nevertheless, an independent area of life with Eigengesetzlichkeit. I do not think Weber would have objections to the inclusion of a moral sphere. In several places in his writings, he appears critical of a modern tendency to push moral statements into the esthetic realm by saying that some-thing‚ is in ‘bad taste‛ rather than admitting that it ‘is morally deplorable.‛


The science that refuses to correct its classics is lost. Classics are not eternal monuments but stepping stones to progress.

Trick Eight of the Theorizing Trade: Change your Definitions so that Your Concepts fit a Superior Theory

My second influential teacher of sociology after Torgny Segerstedt was Arnold M Rose at the University of Minnesota. (Rose had been one of the two junior authors of Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma.)  I was his research assistant in the academic year 1950-51. He had his intellectual roots in “symbolic interactions” as developed in the Chicago School of Sociology. He introduced me to teachings of Ezra Park and Herbert Blumer. It was easy for me to merge ideas I had learned from Segerstedt and from the philosophy of language and linguistics with symbolic interactionism.

Park had studied in Germany, and his doctoral dissertation in 1904 at Bonn University had the title Masse und Publikum. A "mass," he said, is an agglomeration of people without contacts with one another, but, which is exposed to a common source of information, e.g. the same newspaper. A "public" is a gathering in which people talk to one another and become aware of one another's viewpoints. The group, the public, the crowd was the beginning of a schema of different forms of social interaction that came to characterize the most widely used pre-war American text book in sociology (Park and Burgess 1924).

To streamline this thinking for our use, we first note that terms referring to humans, such as "group," should be separate from terms that refer to the structures, such as "organization." Chicago sociologists usually ignored the latter requirement. The proper expression, thus, is “an organization with a group of members.” The members are employees, volunteers, senior citizens, or occupants of any other positions. Second, we note that the old designations do not always fit current everyday usage.

 Updated definitions of lasting forms of symbolic interaction can be distinguished, in part, by the reciprocity of contacts and, in part, by the existence of a shared source or sender of communication. The shared sender is a shared leadership whenever the message includes explicit prescription about what to do, or implicit prescriptions such as “Read this,” “Listen, ”Remember”. Such a sender is what Segerstedt called “the source of a norm.”

 With these two dimensions, reciprocity and leadership, we can define communication structures. The combinations provide four types. All are clusters of interconnected positions and roles.





Is there a common sender of communica­tions?





Are there mutual channels of contact?





Structure of communica­tions





Description: Figure_8_1_orgrev.jpg

Description: Figure_8_1_net.jpg

Description: Figure_8_1_med.jpg

Description: Figure_8_1_mass.jpg





Atomized crowds


Organization loyalists

Gregarious networkers

Media freaks


Our definitions provide different labels to the participants and to the structures in which they are participating. Organizations thus have members. Networks, not gaterings, house “publics.” Media have “audiences.” This streamlining of the terminology implies that Park's original definitions and labels are changed. The definitions of publics and audiences have been switched. The mass has a new definition.

How can one justify such a switch? In part, it follows more recent speech habits. But I justify it from a notion that “public opinion” is a spontaneous view in publics as defined here. The corresponding spontaneous order in an economy is the market prices, in science it is the current standpoint of science.

The pollsters’ use of statistical samples of discrete individuals and demographic units of analysis, rather than real communities, publics, networks, and groups, was the most serious criticism leveled at the young polling enterprise in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Public opinion, said the critics, evolves in networks, sometimes with media input, but never in demographic categories of unconnected individuals. This critique, most effectively advanced by Chicago sociologist Herbert Blumer (1948) is still valid. It gives opinion research in national samples limited relevance for a serious study of actual social and political opinion processes. A few demographic “background variables,” such as age, sex, education and residence, do not point to necessary links to relevant publics in society engaged in discussions. To talk of demographic variables as causes that can explain public opinions from informal discussions in networks are clearly misleading.

Old-fashioned network opinions recur as central in most modern theories of state, legitimacy, and democracy. They appear under various tags, for example, “participatory democracy” in several versions from de Tocqueville (1856)1866/1998-2001), “participatory principles” (Rawls 1971, 36-37), “deliberate democracy” (Benhabib 1996), and above all in so called “discourse theory.” The latter is a model of democracy presented by Habermas (1965). It assumes that communication flows through both the parliamentary bodies and the informal networks of the public sphere, arenas in which rational opinion formation and democratic decision-making can take place.

For all of these conceptions of democracy, the pollsters’ “public opinion by demography” is largely ignorable, while “public opinion by networks” is highly relevant. For the latter very sophisticated theories of democracy, the success since the 1930s of George Gallup's and Elmo Roper’s public opinion by demography appears as a problematic departure, with no or few arrivals at the current frontiers of knowledge.

I have changed Park’s terminology about “public” in my longstanding effort to make Blumer’s public opinion as the relevant one to contemporary democratic theory, not the public opinion from polls as we now know them.  

Trick Nine of the Theorizing Trade: Use Greimas’ Square to Obtain New Concepts

Organizations are relatively stable interactions of social relations guided from a leadership position. They are a kind of formalized resting-stages in the ever-going processes of changing and preserving human encounters. Their opposite is interacting with unorganized positions and social relations. This is what we call a network.

A more advanced means of working with classifications is the so-called "semiotic square," a diagram introduced below. Those who find such a diagram incomprehensible can simply read on in the text to find the intended categories. A semiotic square is actually more of a device for the author of a schema of classification than for the reader of that classification.

Let us use the device of a semiotic square (Greimas 1966) to spell out the ramifications of the difference between organization and network. In the square we have put the two opposites, organization and network, into such a square. Such a procedure reveals, better than intuition, what is implicit in the speech we use.


We get two pay-offs. On the right side of the square is a well-known combination that we recognize as mass media. On the left side, we obtain a seemingly unfamiliar combination of a full-fledged organization and a full-fledged network. We have no generally accepted word for this. However, we know some illustrations, for example, the perfect firm (an organization) operating on the perfect market (a network). We shall use as a generic term ‘netorg’ for this phenomenon. All societal realms, not only in the economy, have netorgs.

The netorgs were not part of Ezra Park’s scheme and the structuration of society taught by the pioneering Chicago sociologists. It took us a semiotic square to bring them out in the open in the study of social reality.

Trick Ten of the Theorizing Trade: Use Fourfold Tables to Relate Concepts to One Another

Given two dimensions, leadership and boundary, we can devise a fourfold table, a construction that is beloved by sociologists both in their theorizing and in their statistical presentation of data. (To analyze data to separate effects of different categories you may need eight- or sixteen-fold table.)

Common leadership











Three of the categories are familiar from the Chicago School. A new category emerging from this exercise is the ‘assembly,’ a structure called collegium in the Roman Republic where it was recognized in the law as requiring three or more members. They acted as a com­mittee, no single person ruled them. Assemblies are town meetings, legislatures, church concilia, university faculties, alumni meetings, board meetings, family reunions, and many other get-togethers of defined groups. They have rosters of members none of whom rules over any others. They have no common leadership, only temporary chairpersons.

Trick Eleven of the Theorizing Trade: Join a Collegiate Faculty with Decisions Taken in Assemblies of Professors, not an Organization doing Project Research under a Director or University President

Even the best informed scholars about the modern mode of research in the context of applications admit that it has made “surprisingly small contribution” to basic science (Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2001, 11).

In 2011, the Swedish government gave the option to state universities to abandon the rule by collegiate assembly and adopt the bureaucratic form under a university president. We do not yet know the outcome of this legislation.

Those universities which opt out from collegiate self-government will, in their search for new knowledge, be like any research institute in the private sector or in the central government. The executive traditions in these sectors may certainly require that the employees become good at producing research reports that meet the budgets of time and money. But on the day of the deadline, they run the risk of discovering that the content of a research report is dead dull. Several interesting insights or hunches, made in passing by the research team, may lay by the wayside. They are wasted hypotheses that did not happen to fit in the council-approved plan for the project, or did not fit in the mindset of the boss of the research institute.

 A theorist is more at home in a collegiate structure than in a bureaucratic one.

Trick Twelve of the Theorizing Trade:  Find the Esthetics of Your Work

The adjective "many-splendored" used in the title of my series of books dates from the 1950s. It was invented and spelled "many-splendoured" by Han Sugin, a Chinese-born author and physician writing in English and French. One of her novels was turned into the 1955 film "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," set in Hong Kong, starring Jennifer Jones and William Holden. Their many-splendored love in the film struggles to overcome the ingrown distrust of a racially and ethnically different couple and their families. The most memorable scenes in the film are set on the high and windy hills of Hong Kong where the lovers first meet.

Love is a many-splendored thing,

It's the April rose that only grows in the early spring,

Love is nature's way of giving a reason to be living,

The golden crown that makes a man a king.

The song won an Oscar but is since forgotten. I felt that the adjective in its title, "many-splendored," deserved a longer life. So I made it stand for a society with personal freedom and a differentiation of six self-governing realms: economy, politics, science, art, religion, and morality. To say it again, when these realms are joined in a voluntary cooperation and no one rules totally over any other we have a many-splendored society, in my view, a good one.

A last word. Do not compromise the integrity of these realms by trying to totally merge them:

Proposition 10:14 recalled. Merged Societal Realms: (a) Initially, the proponents of mergers between societal realms tend to become approvingly evaluated in a society, particularly by its Takers. However, (b) any mergers of full societal realms (including their cardinal values, stratifications, organizations, networks, media, etc.) tend to create instable structures that deteriorate over time. (c) The depth and the speed of this deterioration are inversely related to the position of the merger on the Scale of Valence of Societal Realms (Zetterberg 2010, 2nd enlarged ed. 2011, 242).

In the long run, a full merger of societal realms results in increasingly wobbly structures. For example, to merge the body politic and the economy into a socialist society creates an unstable mixture. Likewise, we sense instability coming when the polity merges with the realm of morality into a Nordic-type welfare state.



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[1] I did developed two small objections to Morris. His fourth category, the systemic use of language, is not separate from the three others. Nothing can be systemic that is not originally informative, and/or valuative, and/or incitive. The systemic is an attribute of the other three basic usages of communication. It is the attribute of rationalism. The second objection is the above Bally observation; Morris immediately obfuscated his big discovery by trying to cross-classify his universal uses of language with the structure of the school grammar of language (Morris 1946, 125f). This produced a confusing 16-fold classification that few except some students of rhetoric have appreciated.